It was supposed to be the coda to a long, brutal presidential campaign. The onset of a new era in American politics.
And it was – just not in the way the candidates, their staffers, voters and the reporters who covered them all had expected.
November 8, 2016, means different things to different people. For supporters of President Donald Trump, the date represents a kind of deliverance, their faith in the billionaire businessman rewarded after months of polls suggesting his campaign was doomed.
Hillary Clinton’s coalition, along with a vocal band of “Never Trump” Republicans, regard it quite differently. Many entered the Javits Center in New York City that evening for a party. For history. They left shattered.
This is the story of Election Day in 2016, from the last gasp campaign events, to the heady (for Clinton) early hours and glorious (for Trump) evening. The “day” – all 36 hours of it – ended at the White House, where President Barack Obama acknowledged the result.
This is how it happened, as viewed through social media, and in the memories of CNN reporters who witnessed it live.
CNN producer Betsy Klein:
“I was the pool reporter for the networks the day before election day, and Tim Kaine had a midnight rally at his hometown in Richmond after a full day of campaign events (Raleigh, Charlotte, and Wilmington, NC, then to Fairfax, VA). My job during that rally was to ride up in a lift about 100 feet in the air, get some nice overhead footage, then come back down. But they realized the lift was too loud to move during the rally and didn’t tell me so I got stuck up there for the entire event.”
CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny:
“More than three hours before sunrise, Hillary Clinton’s blue and white campaign plane landed in White Plains, New York, after one final rally. The Clinton staff wasn’t just counting their chickens before a single vote was tabulated, they were popping the champagne. Jon Bon Jovi was aboard, holding court with Bill and Hillary Clinton. A couple dozen Clinton friends and top aides were too. As reporters watched from the back of the plane, their words were out of earshot, but their celebration was clear as they raised their glasses to what they over-confidently thought was a job well done. Clinton thought she was going to win. Her aides told her so. It would be their only champagne toast on Election Day.”
CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta
“I’ll never forget the senior Trump official who told me early on Election Day that it would take a ‘miracle’ for Trump to win. This source was convinced Trump was going to lose in large part because of the Access Hollywood scandal.”
CNN Producer Dan Merica
“It has been a long night but Hillary Clinton felt like she was going to win.
After a Lady Gaga concert in North Carolina at 12:30 p.m. ET and a tarmac rally with some of her longtime supporters in New York at 3 a.m. ET, Clinton’s last frenetic day of campaigning was over. There was optimism on the plane, even from the woman up front who had long been careful about appearing confident.
I slept for a couple hours after getting home from the airport and woke up at 6 a.m. to go vote with Clinton. I was pool on Election Day and we were at a local school in Chappaqua, New York waiting for the first woman from a major political party to put a check mark next to her name on a presidential ballot.
Clinton, despite the lack of sleep, arrived all smiles wearing a gold pant suit. Bill Clinton was in tow sporting a blue suit and light blue tie.
The voting was inconsequential, even if it was historic. It was my interaction with both Clintons that remained with me long past her loss. As women lined up outside thanked Clinton for her campaign, I could see she was moved.
What does this all mean, I asked.
‘It’s the most humbling feeling,’ Clinton said, reflecting on the history of her campaign for one of the first times. ‘I know how much responsibility goes with this and so many people are counting on the outcome of this election. … And I will do the very best I can if I am fortunate enough to win.’
After years of covering Clinton, it was one of the first times I remember thinking she feels like she is going to win – and make history.”